• Strange and interesting but unproven facts about playing cards

  • September 02, 2019

  • Strange and interesting but unproven facts about playing cards

    Yesterday I talked about the history as we best know it to be in regards to how playing cards came to be what we know them as today. Though, as I mentioned, there are lots of interesting stories, to me anyway, which may hold significance in the origins of cards.

    As we know, over the years, playing cards have been adapted endlessly. Still, the court cards have had the most modifications, always being altered to match the local culture and history, which is why their origins are so hard to trace. However, the story goes that in the 16th century, the Parisians once again influenced playing card history by modelling the kings after four of the most influential civilizations from pre-medieval culture:

    • The King of Hearts may represent King Charlemagne of the Holy Roman Empire.
    • It is suggested that Julius Caesar is depicted on the King of Diamonds to represent the Roman army.
    • Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, is the man some say is behind the King of Clubs.
    • The King of Spades may be modelled after King David (as in David and Goliath minus the slingshot).

    The English then further changed the cards by altering their costume designs which initially matched their respective ancient Kings to the style of Henry VIII, which accounts for the 15th-century clothing still depicted on cards today.

    Though the truth of the connection between the court cards and the famous members of humanity’s history is hard to prove one way or the other; there are still further fascinating tall tales about the relationship between playing cards and life. While there is no evidence to back up these similarities, as some claim to be connected, it is still interesting to see them laid out:

    • Four seasons in a year and four suits in a deck.
    • 13 lunar cycles of the moon and 13 cards in each suit.
    • 52 weeks in a year and 52 cards in a deck. Also, if you count and add all the letters in the names of the 13 values (A-C-E is 3 plus T-W-O is 3 equals 6, and so on), the sum is exactly 52. (And it even works in French.)
    • 365 days in one year. If you add up the value of every card in the deck (11 for Jacks, 12 for Queens, 13 for Kings), the result is 364...now add one for the Joker (the additional Joker is for use during leap years).


    As if all of that isn’t strange enough, every deck of cards contains a fascinating mathematical problem. There are more ways to arrange a deck of cards than there are atoms on earth. I will try and keep this simple, both for myself and you dear reader since my mathematical skills are certainly not at the level they once were when I was a maths geek at school, but I will give it my best shot!

    You see, whenever you shuffle a deck of cards, to work out the probability of the cards being in that specific order, you have to look at each position in the deck consecutively. The first position in the deck can contain any of the 52 cards in the deck, the second position will then be one of remaining 51 cards, and the third position will be one of the remaining 50 cards, and so on. This can be represented mathematically by using factorials.

    A factorial is simply a way to represent the exact mathematical “equation” we created by trying to calculate the probability of a deck being in a specific order just now and looks like this:

    52! = 52 x 51 x 50 x 49 x 48 x 47 x ... and so on until you reach “1”.

    This number is approximately 8x10^67, which I’m sure you can appreciate, is an enormous number. So big in fact, that even if you could shuffle a deck of cards every second of the universe’s total existence, the universe would end before you could even get one billionth of the way to finding a repeated sequence. That is how big this number is.

    So even if you don’t like magic, you can’t tell me there isn’t something insanely cool about playing cards!

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